BY PENNY DICKERSON
Local residents can celebrate African-American history for free on Saturday at the 15th annual Juneteenth Family Festival at the Cypress Park and Recreation Center in Daytona Beach. The festival is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The community gathering of family and friends will present the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels and there will be events for children and teens. Free blood pressure checks and more will be available at a health fair. Food vendors will on site and free fruit and vegetable bags will be provided by Farm Share.
“Juneteenth brings the entire community together for one day to put aside our differences. It’s not a white thing or a black thing. It is all religions and races coming together,” shared Linda McGee, festival chairperson. “This is a celebration that Daytona is proud of and gets bigger every year. We have our first major sponsors, which are Halifax Health and Halifax Health Hospice.”
Last year’s Juneteenth festival drew about 6,000 people to the park.
Juneteenth: The back story
It took two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that the word that slaves had been freed was issued through Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas.
Folklore reports that the messenger was murdered or that plantation owners withheld the news in order to retail slave labor and reap a final cotton harvest.
The single historical truth is that slaves in America’s Midwest learned on June 19 that the war was over, the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, and they were free. An unrivaled celebration took place and since, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.
“Imagine being a slave for two years and finding out that you’re the only one still a slave. When they found out they were free, they celebrated and their slave masters and other people helped them, so Juneteenth now is a celebration for everyone,” explained McGhee.”
A united effort
Volunteers throughout Volusia County have committed their most valuable resource to make Juneteenth a success – time.
The Gamma Mu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. will be joined by the Black Bikers Association led by Leroy Robinson, Volusia County Health Department, the NAACP and others to ensure that Juneteenth is a success.
A strong sponsorship base allows the festival to remain cost-free for community attendees. In addition to local businesses, this year’s co-sponsors include the City of Daytona Beach, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR, and VITAS.
According to McGhee, any child who comes to Juneteenth and cannot afford to buy a meal from food vendors will be given a free plate as part of an initiative set forth by the festival committee.
While an abundance of food – from fried chicken to a pound-cake contest will be plentiful – volunteers will distribute free fruit and vegetable bags on a first-come, first-serve basis to those in need.
The Florida Department of Health in Volusia County has partnered with Farm Share and the Midtown Health Equity Action Team to provide the free produce, which aligns with healthy eating and initiatives to curve childhood obesity.
Farm Share is a statewide food program that provided more than $40 million worth of fresh produce to families last year.
“We distribute food all across the state of Florida. We typically target ‘food deserts,’ an area where nutritious food is difficult to find. The only food options in these areas are typically dollar stores and convenience stores, not stores such as Winn-Dixie, Publix, etc,” said Chris Hughes, a warehouse manager for Farm Share Inc. “These areas can be found in urban and rural areas all across the state.
We recover food from all over the state and rely on donations and government funding as it is all distributed free of charge unlike other hunger-relief organizations.
Added Stefany Strong, public information officer of the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, “This is a great opportunity for local residents to pickup some fruits and vegetables for their family meals. It is very important to eat healthy and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This effort is just one of many ongoing in our community to promote healthy living.”
The Cypress Park and Recreation Center is located at 925 George W. Engram Blvd.